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Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège saw Boels-Dolmans’ European champion Anna van der Breggen take the headlines, soloing over the line at the race’s inaugural edition to complete a historic Ardennes triple. Just under ten minutes later, Australian Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott) crossed the line having helped teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten to fifth place.
After a post-race chat with her teammates, Elvin talked CyclingTips through her spring season, including her podium finish at Tour of Flanders – an historic first for an Australian female at this prestigious race.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège marked the end of the Spring Classics, a series of hard one-day races in Belgium and Holland marked by their steep, punchy climbs and cobbled roads. Gracie Elvin and her Orica-Scott team have been racing weekend after weekend, and the legs are feeling it.
“I think everyone is going to finish the spring really tired after today,” Elvin told CyclingTips. “I think [Liège] was the hardest race we’ve had this spring. It probably had the most climbing in a single day yet…It was a beautiful race, a great course but it was a bit too hard for me. I haven’t felt great since Flanders but I was happy to help as much as I could for Annemiek (van Vleuten), Katrin (Garfoot) and Amanda (Spratt).”
It’s been a long spring and the racing has been hard, but exciting. An increasing amount of races are held in tandem with men’s events and, with the addition of a women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold Race to the calendar, the women’s peloton completed its first-ever Ardennes Week.
“I think it was awesome to have this race alongside the men’s. I think it’s a big deal for women’s cycling, and we’re really grateful to have it,” commented Elvin.
And while Liège (also called “La Doyenne”) might not have seen Orica-Scott achieve the result they set out for, it marked the end of a successful spring campaign for the Australian, perhaps her most successful yet.
Her top tens at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Drentse Acht van Westerveld were followed up by a second place at Dwars door Vlaanderen and 11th at Gent-Wevelgem.
The highlight though, was a second place at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen – the culmination of a linear progression at recent editions of the race. After taking 39th at her first attempt in 2013, Elvin has gone from 63rd to 31st to 11th before this year’s career-best and historic result.
“I’ve always loved that part of Belgium. I spent a lot of time there and I love that race, so every year I’ve tried to improve a little,” she said. “I knew that result was possible. I had a lot of faith, a great team and good preparation and coaching.”
“I’d taken a slow build through the Australian summer so I was doubtful about how I’d go this season, so I’m really happy about my spring – especially Flanders,” she said. “I made it clear that that race was going to be a big goal for me, so I’m proud of myself having targeted it and gotten a result in the end. I hope to win it one day.”
When Elvin says she spent a lot of time there, she isn’t kidding. For the first time in her career the 28-year-old decided to base herself in Belgium in order to specifically focus on the classics.
“Yeah I made a bit of a personal investment and stayed in Gent for four weeks, so I think that paid off a lot. I like staying there, and I love training around Oudenaarde – where the Ronde finishes.”
“Knowing all the roads so well is a big advantage, and then I didn’t have to travel at all so taking away four or five days of travelling made a big difference as well.”
These differences culminated in a second place finish, which was an historic results as she became the first Australian female to podium at this prestigious race. And there to witness this momentous occasion on the sidelines were Elvin’s parents.
“They’ve come to see me in Italy a couple of times but I managed to persuade them to come to Belgium this year. They were really lucky because it was such good weather, so they’ll have a good impression of Belgium,” she said with a laugh. “But yeah it was special to have them there for that.”
Next up for the Canberran will be a well-deserved rest period after a hectic spring, but later in the season the OVO Women’s Tour (of Britain, where she finished ninth last year) is a goal.
“After that I’ll build up for a good campaign at the Worlds. Though there’s a lot of racing between now and then so I’ll just be taking it month-by-month I think,” she said.
While Elvin was complimentary about racing La Doyenne, her opinion of the recently-announced second stage of July’s La Course by Tour de France was decidedly less positive. The 20-rider 23km pursuit stage, which was announced last week, has been met with a mixed reaction around cycling.
“I don’t think I’ll be going. I’m a bit on the fence about it because it’s a spectacle and I think women’s cycling needs more than a spectacle now,” she said. “Maybe it’s OK that there’s something a bit extra – something exciting – but for only 20 riders to participate is not what we want.”
“We were hoping this year that there would be a few more days of racing, so personally I’m not a huge fan.”
So we won’t see Elvin in France come July then, but if her efforts this spring are anything to go by, there’ll no doubt be much more to look forward to from her – keep an eye out.